Supporters of the Voting Rights Act are painting a bleak picture of what it would mean for the rights of minority voters if the Supreme Court were to strike down the landmark 1965 law’s Section 5, which requires state and local governments with a history of disenfranchising minority voters (i.e. mostly in the south) to receive preclearance from the Justice Department or federal court before changing laws that affect voting. “Broadly speaking, if we didn’t have Section 5 we would find that minority voters are in many places around the covered jurisdictions will have their ability to equally participate in the political process severely compromised,” Julie Fernandes, a civil rights activist and former deputy assistant attorney general at the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said this week. “We’ll see a lot more of the diluting tactics that we used to have.” The Supreme Court hears oral arguments Wednesday in Shelby County v. Holder, the most serious challenge to Section 5 of the Voting Right Acts in the nearly 50 years since its enactment. The liberal-leaning Center For America Progress held a briefing with reporters in advance of the Supreme Court hearing where experts, including Fernandes, made the case for the validity and necessity of Section 5. Nervous that their side will face five very skeptical justices at oral arguments, they described the part of the law as critical to protecting minority voters’ rights.
Fernandes warned that certain states and municipalities would be free to enact laws that dilute the African-American and Latino vote — such as a return to “at-large” elections where all of the voters vote for all of the seats and racially-oriented redistricting in Congress, county commissions, sheriff elections and police juries.
“I think that we will see that African Americans and Latinos in particular, but in some places Native Americans, will just not have equal political power,” she said. Fernandes pointed in particular to Alabama, where the Shelby County case originated, and other southern states.